“Risk sucking. And if that doesn’t work, raid the refrigerator,” says Writers’ Program instructor Kimberlee Auerbach. Kimberlee recently sat with the Writers’ Program and shared this advice on writer’s block, and the benefits of finding humor in dark topics. A New York resident, Kimberlee regularly teaches online. Her course, Humorous Memoir Writing: an Advanced Workshop, which starts July 14, is now open for enrollment.
Writers’ Program: What can students expect from your course?
Kimberlee Auerbach: Students can expect to become very, very rich during my 10-week course. Oh wait, this is a writing class. Right. They can expect to know themselves and their story on a much deeper level. They can expect to layer and edit their work and to make mistakes in order to find the right texture on the page. They can expect to polish their pages. And to make new friends, if they’re open.
WP: Why write humorous memoir? What do you enjoy about it?
KA: I just think life can be so dark and filled with such pain. It’s our job to find the beauty and humor in it. It’s like Mary Poppins sings, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” I think a humorous memoir makes our brokenness a lot easier to swallow.
WP: Tell me about the process of writing something so personal. Is it scary? Thrilling? Both?
KA: I actually wouldn’t describe it as scary or thrilling. It’s hard being honest with people you know in life and certainly hard being honest with people you don’t know on the page, but it’s even harder being honest with yourself, going through your life experiences and perceptions and observations and figuring out the difference between a story and a journal entry. Good first-person writing requires an insane degree of self-awareness. Otherwise, you’re floundering. I help people look at themselves and their lives more clearly, and I rely on others to do the same for me.
WP: In a review I read of your memoir, The Devil, the Lovers and Me, it said if you ever meet Kimberlee Auerbach, ask her about the time she lived in San Francisco. Care to dish?
KA: About a year after I graduated from college, I packed up my car and drove out west to get away from my parents’ impending divorce, figuring if I couldn’t create an emotional boundary, I’d create a physical one. Bad move. For one, you can’t escape your pain; it will find its way into bad poetry. Two, living in San Francisco, knowing no one, you will eat too many burritos and get fat fast. Three, just because your bosses are women, and twenty years older than you, doesn’t mean you won’t be sexually harassed.
I worked for two older lady documentary filmmakers who lived together, yet somehow, in my 20-something year old mind, it never occurred to me that they were lovers, but when one of them invited me out to see Flamenco dancing and got me drunk on hot toddies and the other one stopped talking to me, I realized I had somehow gotten myself involved in a lesbian love triangle.
I made it back to New York in five days.
WP: For us sunny Angelenos, and all the rest of the Writers’ Program students in between, tell me about life in NY. Is it all “Sex and the City” all the time?
KA: You can have any kind of life you want in NYC, which is what I love about it. You could go out clubbing. You could go to fancy restaurants. You could see a play or musical or comedy show any night of the week. Or you could make compost at home and bring it to a local farmers market. I basically do none of the above. I teach writing classes and see private clients and go to writers groups and hang out with my boyfriend and friends and watch Lost and write and sit by the river and watch the sun go down. For me, it’s less about the glitz and the glamour and the $15 cosmos, and more about my community.
WP: Tell me something you saw or heard recently that inspired you to write.
KA: I’m working on a novel now and reading Jennifer Belle’s Going Down, which I find very inspiring.
WP: What (or who) is funny to you?
KA: I laugh every day, even on days I’m feeling down. There’s always something to find funny, from the way a dog walks to a snippet of conversation to my friends, who happen to be funny people. This is also super funny:
So, heard any good jokes lately?
KA: I’m not a huge fan of “jokes,” or at least not the kind that involve a rabbi, a priest and a cow. I like it when people exaggerate or point out the absurd or see something funny in something that’s not supposed to be funny. Recently, a friend of mine was complaining of back pain. Instead of saying the usual, “My back is killing me,” he said, “My back is giving me Hep C.” What I personally like about this is that it’s unexpected. I like and appreciate the unexpected. I also think humor needs to push the envelope and really play with language and meaning. I am kind of a superstitious person, who cares very much about being positive in the world, so I would never say what my friend said, but I love the freedom in it. I think the more freedom you can allow yourself in your expression, the funnier and more human you will be, the better the writing.
Meet Kimberlee in cyberspace at Cyberhouse: An Online Open House. For more information about this free event, click here.
Sara Bond is the Program Assistant for Creative Writing (Online) and Events.